Some Dilbert observations raise questions about who might be a data snob. Take the test.

Bryan Beverly, Statistician, Bureau of Labor Statistics

September 13, 2016

3 Min Read
Credit: Pixabay

In a comic strip from a few years ago, Scott Adams' Dilbert makes a statement that might be called elitist. He suggests that the ability to interpret data is a sign of intelligence. By means of contrast, he says that anecdotes are for those whom he deems less data savant.

While this is only a comic strip, let’s ask ourselves if there is a kernel of truth here. Do analytics professionals deem themselves brighter than those who are not number crunchers? Does society rank quants a step above non-quants? Does data awareness function as a proxy for social status? Does the world only have two categories of people -- analysts and "the great unwashed"?

To answer these questions, let’s consider the three determinants of socioeconomic status:

  • Income

  • Education

  • Occupation

There is frequently a high correlation between these three concepts. People with high education are more likely to have occupations that pay above the US Census Bureau’s 2014 median household figure of $51,939.00. The Dilbert character is an engineer (a high status occupation that requires a lot of education); a quant who designs great systems that are seldom appreciated by his non-quant manager. Interestingly, the boss’ occupation and income are misaligned with his data knowledge -- he has high rank and high income but low data education.

This discordance is known as status inconsistency. But as a rule, one’s occupation often reflects one’s educational attainment and their total annual salary. Hence, while the boss does outrank Dilbert, it is clear that Dilbert is the boss when it comes to analytics, and considers himself to be an intellectually superior person.

Now with the socioeconomic status assumptions in place, let's have a session of truth telling. Please give yourself one point for each of the statements below that are applicable to you:

  1. I think that my ability to process data, execute analyses and generate reports makes me special and very valuable to my company.

  2. I think that I am underpaid relative to the value of my work products.

  3. I speak in code syntax and jargon with other analysts to exclude non-techies from the conversation.

  4. I socialize/fraternize only among analysts, stay cloistered in my work area and make it a point to go to professional conferences to trade war stories with my peers.

  5. I think that I am smarter than my bosses because I have to explain analytic results to them.

  6. I take critiques of my code as ad hominem attacks; I have symbiotic relationships with my programs.

  7. I think that more of the annual budget should be spent for training, travel and new tools.

  8. I sometimes do not document my code or disclose its location, as a means of protecting my turf.

  9. I expect to have a workstation with dual monitors.

  10. I believe that if an application fails, then it is not my fault.

Where do you rate?

If your score ranges from 0-2, then consider yourself a humble analyst. If your score ranges from 3-5, then consider yourself a rising star. If your score ranges from 6-8, then consider yourself a firmly established professional analyst. If your score ranges from 9-10, then consider yourself a Data Elitist.

Back to the original question, do you believe that your relationship with data gives you high status? Are you one of the analytic cognoscenti, a Diva/Divo?

About the Author(s)

Bryan Beverly

Statistician, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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